Craft Specialization & Social Complexity

Craft specialization, the regular provision of products and/or services for exchange, also known as economic specialization, is correlated with social complexity in extant societies as well as in the archeological record (Costin 2007; Clark and Parry 1990; Clark and Blake 1994; Arnold 1992). Archeologists often make inferences about the social organization, politics and economy of a settlement based on the material remains of specialized craft goods. Specialized craft production is when people make more of something they need for their household and dependents and exchange the their surplus production for something else. There is a relationship between the level of craft specialization and social complexity. They both appear to progress hand-in-hand. Archeologists have found that the more evidence of specialized craft production there is, the greater the size and social complexity of its society. However, there are competing theories on the nature of the relationship. What are the independent factors that drive the formation of socially complex societies? Does social complexity produce economic specialization, exchange networks and the production and consumption of prestige goods (Diamond 1999)? Or, do specialized production of goods and services, financed by elite patrons, serve to produce and maintain social complexity by financing elite control of resources and symbolically validating their elite status with prestige objects? Which comes first, the craft specialization or the social complexity?

In this paper I will review the relationship between craft specialization and social complexity according to recent archeological theory. But first I will define some terms. Continue reading


Four Neo-Evolutionists Walk into a Bar: Steward, White, Service & Fried

Neo-evolutionary anthropology developed in the mid-Twentieth Century as a response to the need to develop theories that better explained cultural differences, similarities and the processes of culture change than the British Structural-Functionalists or the American Historical Particularists. The need was especially felt in archeology for an empirical method that could be used to categorize types of societies from material evidence. This new theoretical perspective incorporated evolutionary theory with Marxism, Structural-Functionalism of British anthropology, the American Historical Particularists and other perspectives. Neo-evolutionists Julian Steward, Leslie White influenced their successors at Columbia University Elman Service, Morton Fried, Marvin Harris and Sidney Mintz . The following essay will compare and contrast the explanations for social evolution of Steward and White and that of their successors Service and Fried. Continue reading

Archaeological Evidence of Chumash Social Complexity

Chumash Tomol (National Geographic)

Chumash Tomol (National Geographic)

Inferring the social complexity (also known as the “social inequality”) of a settlement from solely its material remains is a common task in archeology. Socially complex settlements have a social structure with a division of labor based on more than age and gender and a hierarchical ranking of certain groups with differential access to resources and power. A socially complex society implies an integration of differentiated social roles into a cohesive society with uniform expressions of solidarity or difference via language and culture–things that are variously manifest in its material culture. Continue reading

Archaeological Evidence of the Earliest North and South Americans

According to archeological evidence, it seems that the earliest humans migrated to the New World in several major waves between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago. Some of these migrants came from north eastern Asia along a maritime route and traveled down the Pacific Coast during the terminal Pleistocene–as  early as 12,00 to 13,000 BP in California according to archeological evidence (Erlandson 2008:2232; Faught: 2008: 677; Hall 2004:154; Jackson 2007; Roosevelt 2002:95). The following review will summarize some of the prehistoric material evidence which disproves the long held belief that the Clovis big game hunters were the first Paleoindians to make it to the New World via a terrestrial in-land migration route (the so called “ice free corridor”) from north eastern Asia through Berengia during the Ice Age (ca. 11,000 BP (Balter 2007; Fidel 2004: 95; Turner 2003). Continue reading

Diet, Health and Teeth from an Anthropological Perspective

And, now for something completely different: the interaction between one’s diet and one’s teeth from an anthropological perspective.

I became intCompendium dental journalerested in the paleoarcheology of dental remains when my open water swim pal and dentist, who in addition to being an excellent open water swimmer, has an insatiable curiosity about almost anything and a particular talent for making just about anything seem interesting. In this case the topic on one pre-dawn swim morning at the beach was about why 3,000 year old Egyptian dental remains found in a commoners grave in Amarna, Egypt had such beautiful teeth. (He also teaches dentistry at UCLA and when fully awake I’m sure his lectures and funny stories must be even more engaging.) A few days later my open-water-swim-and-dental surgeon friend gave me a back issue of a dental magazine called Compendium with very anthropologically interesting headline on it’s June 2009 cover: “Anthropology: Origins of Dental Crowding and Malocclusions

According to the article dental anthropologists believe that there is a correlation between a modern or industrial diet of highly processed foods and malocclusions. (Malocclusion means “dental crowding with teeth out of alignment.”) Consumption of a diet of processed high-calorie and low-fiber foods occurs with the transition from indigenous or non-industrial culture to an industrialized culture and diet. What is not so clear is why this is so: is it genetics or is it diet or is it a combination of both? Nearly two-thirds of American’s have some degree of dental crowding while indigenous peoples subsisting on their native diets seem to have nearly perfectly aligned teeth with almost no crowding (Rose 2009:292). The trend seems to hold for the majority of societies that consume an industrialized diet of mostly soft processed foods.

Traditional orthodontic textbooks attributed dental crowding to teratogens (agents causing birth defects), malnutrition, genetic disturbances or a genetic admixture of inherited genes and behaviors such as thumb sucking (Rose 2009: 294). But the hereditary cause of malocclusion proponed by the National Institute of Health doesn’t seem to be true (NIH 2009) according to the latest studies. The photos above are from via Google Images.

Compendium cites dental anthropological and archeological studies in its June 2009 issue that supports a connection between an industrial diet and dental crowding or malocclusion. The most common reason why people in the United States need orthodontic treatment seems to be a insufficient alveolar bone mass of the upper and lower jaw bones in order to hold thirty-two teeth in alignment. The latest research seems to indicate that this is due to insufficient chewing stress during childhood rather than to genetic causes as originally believed. The Masticatory Function Hypothesis promoted by Carlson and Van Gernven maintained that dietary changes initiated by the adoption of agriculture and food processing technology in the Nile Valley over the past 10,000 years have resulted in changes in the skull such as reduced jaw sizes (Rose 2009:296). “Carlson and Van Gerven argued most of the facial changes were not the result of genetic changes but caused by reduced chewing stress during development (Rose 2009: 296).”

The implications for orthodontic treatment is to treat dental crowding not with tooth extraction and orthodontics but rather with dentofacial orthopedics and orthodontics in order to increase alveolar bone growth during growth and development (Rose 2009: 297).

A prescription for straighter teeth may also be a diet of more tough and fibrous foods for young children while their jaws are still developing. The reason is that foods that require more mastication seem to stimulate more alveolar bone growth in the maxilliary and mandibular dental bridges in both cross-cultural cross-generation studies and in animal studies, too (Rose 2009:296).

Dental anthropologist Robert Corruccini gathered 20 years of research on the cross-cultural and generational differences in occlusial (alignment) anomalies and concluded that reduced chewing stress in childhood produced jaws that were too small for the teeth despite the ubiquitous trend in dental size and reduction since the advent of agriculture (Rose 2009:296). Corrucini reviewed several previously unpublished cross-cultural studies that showed a significant increase in malocclusion in younger generations who consumed a more refined commercial diet than that of their grandparents who consumed a traditional diet of coarser and more fibrous foods (Rose 2009: 296).

Diet has long been associated with dental health. Weston Price’s 1939 cross-cultural study of 11 human diets titled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects were one of several early cross-cultural studies that pointed to traditional indigenous diets rather than inherited characteristics to be a greater contributing factor to general and dental health.

Robert Corrucini, a dental anthropologist, labeled malocclusion as a “disease of civilization (Rose 2009:299).” Once again, it seems that a Western or industrialized diet characterized by processed, low fiber, high fat, and high sugar foods may be to blame for another modern health malady besides diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and so on: crooked teeth.



National Institute of Health
2009, “Malocclusion of Teeth”, United States National Institute of Health, retrieved on September 7, 2009, from,%20incidence,%20and%20risk%20factors

Price, Weston A.
1939 Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects, La Mesa, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Pp. 524.

Rose, Jerome C. and Richard D. Roblee
2009 “Origins of Dental Crowding and Malocclusions: An Anthropological Perspective,” Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, June 2009, vol. 30., No.5., Pp. 292-300.

2009, “Nutrition and physical Degeneration,” WellSphere, retrieved on September 7, 2009, from